Tangwstyl by Mansel Jones
Mansel Jones is a new name to me. I really enjoyed his fantasy story based on myth. I’m sure you will too.
Tangwstyl is a story of love and murder, of loyalty and betrayal. Set in the medieval town of Kenfig in the year 1399, the story centres on a prophecy made by Merlin and the birth of a girl, named Tangwstyl. Based on historical fact, Tangwstyl tells the story of King Richard and a plot to assassinate him, of Owain Glyn Dwr and his struggle for personal and national justice, and of the medieval Church and its desire to suppress all forms of heresy. Tangwstyl also tells the story of the common men and women of Kenfig, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events, events that would alter long held beliefs and reshape lives.
The Prophecy: From an English Chronicle – The Welsh habit of revolt against the English is an old-standing madness…and this is the reason: the Welsh, formally called Britons, were once noble crowned over the whole realm of England; but they were expelled by the Saxons and lost both the name and the kingdom. The fertile plains went to the Saxons, but the sterile and mountainous districts to the Welsh. But from the sayings of the prophet Merlin they still hope to recover their land. Hence, it is that the Welsh frequently rebel, hoping to give effect to the prophecy.
The Main Characters
Euros – Euros is a lord who returns from a pilgrimage to discover that revolution is in the air and that the common men and women of Wales are poised to take up arms against the English Crown in their fight for justice. Born of an English father and a Welsh mother Euros must reconcile his loyalty to the English Crown with his love for Anest, a woman who believes in Merlin’s prophecy and the need for revolution.
Anest – Anest is a healer. While the men and women of the castle indulge themselves to excess, Anest has to tend to the needs of the wider community. Despairing at the degree of suffering she encounters she realises that drastic action needs to be taken. When she is told of Merlin’s prophecy – that the man who fathered Tangwstyl is to be their saviour – she sets out to find that man.
King Richard. Mistrusting his friends and suspecting his enemies, Richard is on his way to Ireland to quell a rebellion. As he journeys he discovers that treason resides at the heart of his court and that soon a usurper will claim his crown.
Owain Glyn Dwr. Loyal to the Crown, yet not welcome at Richard’s court, Owain Glyn Dwr is made aware of Merlin’s prophecy. Denied justice by the Crown, should he stand by the king or should he lead the rebellion?
Biography: Mansel Jones was born in Glamorgan, Wales, home to numerous castles, folk legends and tales of King Arthur. His words have appeared in publications as diverse as Country Quest, Dragon’s Tales and the Seaside News. He has a profound knowledge of Kenfig and is the author of A History of Kenfig. His views on the medieval town have been sought by leading scholars and have featured in academic publications.
Extract From Tangwstyl – Chapter Seven of Sixty
13th March 1399 – Tangwstyl is born
“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Mary gave birth to Christ, Anne gave birth to Mary, Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. Mary gave birth to Our Lord Jesus Christ without shame and without sorrow. In his name and through the merits of St Mary the Virgin, his mother, and of St John the Baptist we ask you to come out, child, whether you be male or female, from your mother’s womb, without dying or causing her death. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Anest intoned the prayer, hoping that her words would find favour with St Margaret of Antioch and that she, a patron saint of childbirth, would intercede and smooth the passage of Tirion’s labour.
The healer had already decided that if a cut were necessary then Tirion would require some form of sedation. Prepared for such an eventuality, Anest possessed a beverage called dwale, a mixture of lettuce, briony, opium, henbane, juice of hemlock and the gall from a sow, all mixed in a measure of wine. From her medicines, Anest produced this concoction, handing the phial to Madog.Then, she proceeded to wash her hands, along with the belly and the genitalia of the pregnant woman.
The preparatory stage over, it was time to assist in the birth of Tirion’s baby.
Tilting Tirion’s head forward, Madog was about to administer the dwale when the young woman’s eyes opened. She stared wildly at her clothing: “The dagger…you must ensure that Payn de la March gets the dagger…promise me…promise.”
Mystified, Anest moved to Tirion’s side. “Does the dagger belong to Payn de la March?”
Crying out in pain, Tirion was unable to answer. She gripped the straw as yet another contraction consumed her. This was swiftly followed by yet more blood loss. The intensity, and the regularity, of the bleeding proved to be far greater than anything Anest had ever seen before. This forced the healer to reconsider her options: dangerous at the start, the cut seemed impossible now; any incision and subsequent blood loss would surely drain Tirion of all life. In conclusion, Anest decided that the dwale would not be required; she would have to find another way.
Sobbing, Tirion took hold of Anest’s cloak; her fingers, white, translucent, gripping the cloth with surprising force. “The baby…will be a girl…and she is to be called Tangwstyl.”
In compliance, Anest nodded. She would carry out Tirion’s instructions. But she had so many questions: where was Tirion‘s home? Why was she trying to reach Ty Maen? And in relation to the baby: what was the father’s name? And how did she know of its sex? When Tirion subsequently spoke, Anest considered that, maybe, some of those questions remained, etched upon her face.
“The seer…he told me about the baby…believe, and you will all be saved.”
Consciousness had once again deserted Tirion leading Anest to fear that all hope might soon be lost. She was aware that action had to be taken swiftly, or the baby would not take its place in this world. But what to do? Looking at Madog, she was struck by an idea.
“Can you lift Tirion and stand above me on that straw?” Anest pointed to a series of bales, akin to a set of grain steps, arranged neatly, placed near the undercroft door.
Madog nodded vigorously: “That will be no problem. Stand clear, we will see this child born yet.”
Anest watched as Madog raised Tirion by her armpits, the stump of his left arm supporting, the strength in his right arm taking the strain. He climbed the straw steps until he found the third level. There, he sat, holding Tirion, dangling her legs over the edge, in a position where the baby’s weight would take maximum effect; Anest had come to realise that there was little more that Tirion could do; the baby would have to find its own way out of the womb.
Panting, but unable to respond to the contractions, Tirion remained cloaked in perspiration; lucent, her skin shone like glass in the moonlight.
Anest realised that she too was perspiring. She looked up at Madog, wondering: how much longer could he take the strain. But the ease upon his face told her that, in this quarter at least, she had no need of worry; the labour could go on all night if necessary and he would remain there, as solid as a rock, as secure as the Pope’s faith.
However, Tirion could not wait, and so it was with relief that Anest saw the first sign of the baby emerging: the bulge of its head pressing against Tirion’s pelvic floor. The head itself followed, moving forward with each contraction, only to slip back a little, before making more progress. Then, Anest saw that the umbilical cord had looped itself around the baby’s neck and so, carefully, she slipped her fingers under the cord and hooked it over the baby’s head. With the head now fully engaged, Anest manoeuvred the baby backwards until first one shoulder, and then the other, appeared. Two more contractions saw the delivery of Tirion’s baby and, with only a mild measure of astonishment, Anest noted that the seer had been vindicated; Tirion had indeed given birth to a girl: blue, crying, streaked in blood, Tangwstyl was born.
The birthing process over, Anest took the knife and cut the umbilical cord. Then, she washed Tangwstyl with fresh water before covering her in salt and honey, the better to dry up her humours and prevent any premature loss of moisture. Next, Anest dipped a finger into the honey, rubbing this over the baby’s mouth, both to cleanse and to encourage suckling. Finally, she swathed the baby in swaddling bands, offering support to Tangwstyl’s unformed and malleable limbs.
Taking the baby, Anest placed her in Tirion’s arms. The young mother opened her eyes, smiled and kissed Tangwstyl before lapsing into an everlasting peace.
“She needs to be shriven.” Madog climbed down from his position upon the straw. As Anest took Tangwstyl into her arms, so the steward attended to Tirion’s body, wrapping her lifeless form in the blanket, providing her with a degree of grace and dignity, showing total respect for her sacrifice. “The child needs to be baptised; I will seek a priest.”
“She should not have died.” Anest felt a sense of grief, a sense of contrition; she had failed. Yet, had not the Holy Spirit failed them also? After all, had not Anest invoked the support of St. Margaret of Antioch? “I offered up prayers,” she complained.
“Sometimes, our prayers contradict God’s wishes. And being wise to those wishes is the ultimate belief.” Stoically, Madog walked over and placed a comforting hand upon the healer’s shoulder. He smiled at the baby, who lay oblivious, content in Anest’s arms. “You should not reproach yourself. After all, you saved the child’s life.”
Anest cast her eyes down to the ground; she knew that Madog was right but, in that moment, she found Tirion’s passing hard to accept. She was reminded of her limitations, reminded that her skills could have only a finite effect.
“Who will care for the baby?” Madog patted Ci upon the head, calming the animal; he had been present at the birth, occupying a place near the undercroft door. Silent at first, Ci now appeared agitated, excited, as if knowing that he had been privy to a special event.
Considering her answer carefully, Anest found an image of Ceinlys, Meredydd and their baby presenting itself. What was it that Meredydd had said: “If at any time we can help you, you will make use of our labours?” Maybe now was the time to hold him to his word. Not that Ceinlys would be burdened by such a request. Anest had learned through her dealings with Ceinlys just how keen she was to surround herself with children: she would be overjoyed at the prospect of tending a foundling as well as her son. “I will take Tangwstyl to Ballas.” This solution sat comfortably with Anest, allowing a shaft of optimism to filter into her mind. “She will be safe there. She will be well looked after.”
“And what of Tirion’s vision?” Madog continued to soothe Ci, continued to prevent him from leaping up and so lick the child. “Is a prince’s daughter held within your arms?”
Anest smiled at the notion. “Do you believe in such prophecies, Madog?”
“I believe in what I can see, in what is real.”
“This baby is real.” Anest held Tangwstyl on high, as if to confirm that fact. Adding her voice to the discussion, the baby emitted a soft gurgle; the talk of a princess, or the talk of a commoner, there could be no sweeter sound.
“What you say is true,” Madog replied, soberly.
“Tirion’s words were real.”
“That also is without question.”
“Then who are we to disbelieve her?” Anest spoke with conviction and, she would have to admit, with no little hope, for, whatever the truth of the matter, this much was clear: Tirion believed in the seer’s prophecy, for she had been in no condition to invent such a story. If omens were required, Anest could point to the comet, seen burning in the sky earlier that night. Still, more than anything, Anest held on to her intuition: her intuition was her best friend, her greatest ally. Furthermore, her intuition told her that there was something special about Tangwstyl, it told her that the man responsible for this baby’s being held a quality, held an aura that few other men could possess. It told her that he might well be the new Arthur. And that thought sent a shiver down her spine.
A thoughtful silence ensued, the peace eventually broken by Madog’s deep growl: “If that is so, and there is a truth to Tirion’s story, then the child is in danger.”
Anest nodded in agreement. “And that is why we must keep the secret to ourselves.”
Ci’s whimpering caught Anest’s attention and, understanding his disquiet, she knelt so that he could take sight of the newborn child. This pleased the dog greatly, for he sat, mouth open, panting his approval.
“My lord, Euros, he will return from his pilgrimage shortly.” Madog stared to the east, as if anticipating his lord’s appearance; he was overdue and it could be only a matter of days before he arrived. “He is wise, learned; he will know what to do. We will share the events of this night with him.”
Anest complied with the steward’s wishes, once again nodding her agreement. Whilst comforting Tangwstyl, she glanced into the undercroft, catching sight of Tirion’s clothing and her purse, considering the fancy brooch, held within. That brooch was the link to Tangwstyl’s father. And a man who could bestow such a beautiful gift would not wish to be ignorant of such a beautiful daughter. He would learn of her being, and he would appear before them, maybe as himself, maybe in disguise. Nonetheless, Anest would be waiting and, if necessary, she would challenge him, learn of his hopes and his dreams for his child. Learn of his hopes and his dreams for his country, for all his children.
Here’s a short interview with Mansel
“Where do you get your ideas from?”
“I start with the basics of the story: the theme, the time period, the location, etc. Then I develop the characters until they are in a position to suggest a storyline. Research adds more detail along with observation and my general knowledge of a subject. So, basically, it is a mixture of imagination, observation and research.”
“What was the inspiration behind Tangwstyl?”
“The initial idea to write Tangwstyl came when I was reading about Gerald of Wales and his journey through Wales in 1188. The first thought was to have Tirion steal the sacred cow. The cow features in the story, but the plot developed in a totally different direction as more characters were added, including Richard II. My portrayal of Richard II was praised in a Welsh Books Council review, probably my highest compliment to date.”
“Why are you so fascinated with Kenfig?”
“Because it is a beautiful, natural place steeped in history. I believe that local and family history are the cornerstones of history and the stories they have to tell are far more revealing and fascinating than tales of kings and queens.”
“Do you know what is going to happen at the end of a story before you sit down to write?”
“Before I start to write a story I make sure that I know the characters as well as I know my family. I write a profile of each character, which can be five or more pages long. Also, I map out every chapter in detail, so I have a good idea of where the story is going and where it will end. Of course, if fresh ideas suggest themselves during the writing process then I will use them, providing they fit the framework and the theme of the story.”
“What is your favourite period of history?”
“I am a medievalist, though I also enjoy the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and have an interest in the Second World War.”
From Amazon…For once I found that Tangwstyl portrays a true medieval village. The weather, scenery and characters, all resemble a true Welsh village at this era in time. The divergence between the Welsh and the English, as was the case during this period, is also made clear. The characters are believable, and it shows a side to King Richard that is not often seen. The plot is brilliant, and is filled with twists, as each page reveals a new piece of it. The timeline of Tangwstyl is perfect, as it stretches over only a few days. This helps the story feel more realistic and keeps the reader’s attention throughout.
From The Welsh Books Council…Mansel Jones has well imagined the details of life in the period. He obviously knows the landscape well and the evocation of this adds greatly to the book.
From The Kenfig Society…Tangwstyl is…a riveting story…moves along at a terrific pace…holds your interest from start to end and is a real page turner…offers a vivid insight into what it must have been like to live in Kenfig all that long time ago.
Tangwstyl is a medieval romantic mystery based on historical fact. The printed book runs to 536 pages and is available from all leading bookstores and Internet outlets as a paperback and as an eBook. An audio book is planned for the new year.
From 28.10.2015 to 3.11.2015 the ebook will be on offer for £0.99/$0.99